Is our understanding of aquatic ecosystems sufficient to quantify ecologically driven climate feedbacks?

By Corday R. Selden, Richard LaBrie, Laura C. Ganley, Daniel R. Crocker, Ohad Peleg, Danielle C. Perry, Hannah G. Reich, Matthew Sasaki, Patricia S. Thibodeau, Jana Isanta-Navarro

Originally published in Global Change Biology in June 2024



The Earth functions as an integrated system—its current habitability to complex life is an emergent property dependent on interactions among biological, chemical, and physical components. As global warming affects ecosystem structure and function, so too will the biosphere affect climate by altering atmospheric gas composition and planetary albedo. Constraining these ecosystem-climate feedbacks is essential to accurately predict future change and develop mitigation strategies; however, the interplay among ecosystem processes complicates the assessment of their impact. Here, we explore the state-of-knowledge on how ecological and biological processes (e.g., competition, trophic interactions, metabolism, and adaptation) affect the directionality and magnitude of feedbacks between ecosystems and climate, using illustrative examples from the aquatic sphere. We argue that, despite ample evidence for the likely significance of many, our present understanding of the combinatorial effects of ecosystem dynamics precludes the robust quantification of most ecologically driven climate feedbacks. Constraining these effects must be prioritized within the ecological sciences for only by studying the biosphere as both subject and arbiter of global climate can we develop a sufficiently holistic view of the Earth system to accurately predict Earth’s future and unravel its past.

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  • Dr. Laura Ganley

    Laura Ganley, Ph.D., Associate Research Scientist, Spatial Ecology, Mapping, and Assessment, Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life

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